By Josh Brown
NEW CARLISLE — All tournament long, Tippecanoe girls basketball coach Andy Holderman has said that as long as you have one more point than the other team on the scoreboard at the end, your team gets to play another game.
Tuesday night, his Red Devils struggled at times but were able to survive and advance.
After Kenton Ridge cut Tippecanoe’s lead to only one with two minutes to play, senior Claire Hinkle hit a pair of clutch free throws with 28.5 seconds on the clock, then an interception by Maddie Frederick led to free throws by Chloe Schretzman and Brooke Aselage as the top-seeded Devils were able to put away a 48-43 victory over the No. 5 Cougars in the Division II sectional championship game Tuesday at Tecumseh High School.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game on our end, but we found a way when adversity hit us,” Holderman said. “We were able to find a way to battle back.
“This was a great test for us. A great tournament atmosphere with some adversity along the line, and we were able to find a way to get it done.”
An old Central Buckeye Conference rival of Tippecanoe’s — which the Red Devils beat in the regional semifinal in the 2014-15 season, the first of their three straight trips to the regional final heading into this year — Kenton Ridge finished the season with a 14-11 record. Tippecanoe, meanwhile, improved to 23-2 and won its 12th straight game this season and fifth straight sectional title, advancing to Friday’s district final against Goshen at 5:30 p.m. at Mason.
And even though the night was full of surprises, with second-seeded Trotwood — which finished the regular season as the No. 5-ranked team in the state in D-II — falling to fourth-seeded Carroll 52-41 in the earlier sectional final, Holderman wasn’t thinking about that while he watched his Devils — which was the No. 4-ranked team in the state in D-II at the end of the regular season — battle with the Cougars.
“No, that wasn’t on my mind at all,” Holderman said. “Last night, I didn’t sleep very well, because this game (Kenton Ridge) always scares me. With their bigs in there, if they get a couple of shooters hot, that’s a recipe for disaster. We had some nice possessions along the way, and we had some where we just weren’t very smart about some things — on the offensive and defensive end, too. But we’ll look at some film, break down some good things we did and some bad things we did and hopefully build on that.”
The Red Devil offense in particular hasn’t looked as sharp at times without senior four-year starter Allison Mader, who was injured in the regular season finale against Butler. But Tippecanoe, as it did in its first two tournament wins over Belmont and Northwestern, fueled its offense with stops on defense to put together runs throughout Tuesday’s game.
After Tippecanoe went into halftime with a 26-20 lead, Kenton Ridge used a 7-0 run to begin the third to grab a 27-26 lead, with a score in the paint by Mikayla Morris giving the Cougars the advantage. But Frederick grabbed a defensive rebound and pulled up for a 3 in transition to put the Devils back on top and kick off an 11-0 run. Cali Stewart grabbed four defensive rebounds to shut down Cougar possessions and added a 3 during the run, and a free throw by Hinkle made the score 37-27 Tippecanoe before Desiree Jones connected to get Kenton Ridge going again. Still, the Devils led 39-31 heading into the final quarter.
Still, the Devils knew that one big run wouldn’t put the game away.
“No, absolutely, the game isn’t over (after one big run),” Holderman said. “The key, in order to make a run, is that you’ve got to rebound to do it. Once you do that, you can leak out and advance the ball. We knew they weren’t very deep, so that was one of our intentions, to get the ball out and go. But again, we didn’t play our best game by any means.”
A long jumper by Morris cut the Devils’ lead to only two at 42-40 with 3:40 to play, but a drive by Hinkle to answer put Tippecanoe up by two possessions again. A 3 by Joshlynn Johnson, though, cut the deficit to only one at 44-43 with 2:15 to play — but Kenton Ridge allowed the Devils to trim time off the clock until they finally began fouling with 39.3 seconds left with extra fouls to give.
Hinkle went to the line with a one-and-one with 28.5 seconds on the clock and nailed both to make it a three-point game, then Frederick intercepted an errant pass, and Schretzman went to the line with 5.6 seconds remaining. She made the first and missed the second — only to have Aselage grab the offensive rebound and go to the line herself, hitting both of hers with 1.1 seconds remaining to seal the win for good.
Frederick finished with a game-high 16 points and Aselage added 10 points to lead the Red Devils. Stewart scored nine, Hinkle finished with seven and Hailee Varvel scored six as Tippecanoe finished the game 8 for 10 from the free throw line — 5 for 6 in the decisive fourth quarter.
“It’s good stuff,” Holderman said when asked how it felt to be sectional champion again. “That’s always the expectation here, and with that comes pressure. The girls did a fantastic job of battling when it got down to one. We were fortunately able to hold the ball for a little bit and run some time off the clock, and then we stepped up and hit 5 of 6 down the stretch. With that being said, that’s great playing games like that, because (making free throws) is what it’s all about.”
Morris led the Cougars with 14 points, Jones and Kirsten Wiley each scored 11, Johnson chipped in three and Mariah Baker and Mallory Armentrout each had two.
Now Tippecanoe will face Goshen, a No. 6 seed that upset No. 2 Bethel-Tate 42-30 in its sectional final, Friday night in Mason for the district title.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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